Ubuntu 8.04 – Part 2


8I spent the better part of yesterday evening trying to get this OS working on my PC and I’m happy to report that I succeeded.

There were several things that were stopping me getting going with the OS: –

  1. The wireless card that I have uses the “ACX 111” driver in Ubuntu. There is no WPA mode for this driver – or at least, none that I could find. Every web site I visited suggested the same thing, so I took a wireless USB stick that was about the flat and tried that – the PC detected it straight away, and lo and behold it offered all the WPA protocols straight away. Because the internal card was detected first, it seems to have become the primary NIC though, so every time I boot it tries to connect using that and I then have to tell it to use the USB card. Once I’ve done that though, and make sure that the card is in a good spot, it’s fine and the connection is rock solid.
  2. The video drivers for my nVidia 8500 don’t get downloaded by default. I, quite by chance, found an option to download the “proper” drivers for it. Only a 10mb download, so quite quick. Once I’d done this, I was able to turn on the full eye-candy etc..

Now with those too issues are solved – to be fair the main one was the wireless card, the other one wasn’t a show-stopper – I was able to try and play around with the OS properly.

Plus Points

  • Ubuntu comes with some decent software pre-installed – Firefox 3 beta 5, Open Office, a few media players etc.
  • There’s a nice add/remove programs feature which connects to a centrally-updated repository of software; just select what you want and it automatically downloads and installs it. It’s quite a “connected” OS in that respect – think of Windows Update but with applications as well as drivers etc. and you’ve pretty much got it.
  • I got hold of some software called Compiz (I think), which is a desktop-compositing manager – think of the Glass Aero effects – which let’s you open up some really impressive UI features (see screenshots below). The effects outdo those in Vista; some are just eye-candy but some – like the multiple desktops – are very useful features. I know that the nVidia software gives you multiple desktops but Ubuntu has multiple desktops out-of-the-box. There are lots of themes available and they offer more flexibility than that of those in Vista.
  • The font rendering engine seems much better than Vista’s clear-type. Pages rendered in Firefox just looked much, much nicer in Ubuntu.
  • It seems to be quicker than Vista as well. Being a 64-bit install, maybe that’s something to do with it  – my install of Vista is a 32-bit one.
  • Ubuntu has much nicer screensavers than Vista 🙂
  • I liked the way that the PIM application integrated with the main desktop – I imported my Google Calendar into it and then when I viewed the system calendar it automatically highlighted dates that were filled with appointments – neat.

Minus Points

  • It’s not entirely stable; I had the machine stall on me a couple of times.
  • S3 Standby doesn’t work on my PC – not sure if that’s because I have installed it “under windows” or not though.
  • I miss the sidebar in Vista (although I’m sure that there is an equivalent under Ubuntu).
  • Some things are a bit tricky to do that I find easier to do under Windows, although I suspect some of it is because of my lack of knowledge in Ubuntu. Example: “Program Files” is a logical place for applications to be stored under Vista. In Ubuntu, it’s something like usr/susr/bin or something – and all the applications are just chucked together in one big folder and the filenames aren’t always meaningful.
  • I did not activate the Indexing component of Ubuntu, but I found searching is better integrated in Vista – many explorer windows and file dialogs have a built-in search box in Vista, and this isn’t often available in Unbuntu.

Software

This is probably the main reason that would ever stop me from moving over to Ubuntu full-time (although I still intend to play around with it for a while longer). There are some programs that I use that aren’t available on Ubuntu such as:

  • Gearbox (for my Line6 POD X3)
  • Microsoft Money
  • Visual Studio
  • Windows Live Writer – I have found a few blogging programs but none seemed to have the same features as this, or the ability to connect to Live Spaces.
  • Internet Explorer, for the odd website that doesn’t work (yet) in Firefox, especially ones that use ActiveX.

There is software that meets the equivalent Windows application in many cases, such as Pidgin and aMSN (for Windows Messaging), a number of Torrent clients, eMail and PIM clients etc.., Media Player equivalents like Amarok etc.

Summary

I have been impressed with Ubuntu. The device management is getting there although there’s still a way to go – some drivers still aren’t as simple as just plugging it in, or even double clicking an icon – you have to download a file, compile it, get the dependencies etc. I felt that when things went wrong with devices it was a bit “hit-and-miss”. Those days, by and large, are gone now in Vista. Having said that, it’s not that Ubuntu is that bad at it – I turned on my printer and Ubuntu immediately knew what it was and configured it all automatically – just that’s it’s not quite as slick as I’d like it to be.

The software is really not bad at all – thinking about what I use, if it wasn’t for the software above – and even Visual Studio I could do without by accessing it through my office – I would consider using it even more. As it stands, I’ll keep at it and report back my thoughts in the future. I’d say that, especially given the ease of install in Ubuntu 8.04, it’s worth giving it a whirl – you might like it, especially if you’re the sort of person who just uses the PC to browse the web, check email, maybe do some instant messaging and view the odd photo.

Some screenshots

Ubuntu1

Above: Viewing the BBC Sport website in Firefox 3. Notification pane is top-right, “Start Menu” equivalent is top-left. Virtual desktops shown on bottom-right.

Ubuntu2

Above: Switching between virtual desktops in real time in 3D. The left desktop has Firefox 3 running; the right one has System Monitor and aMSN (an MSN-compatible messaging client). Just as in Vista’s Alt-Tab and Windows-Tab, everything keeps running whilst switching between applications and desktops.

Ubuntu3

Above: Going through my music collection in Amarok whilst watching a film. Notice Firefox running on an alternate desktop in the bottom right.

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